‘Transparent’ Producer Zackary Drucker Talks The Future Of Queer TV
By S. Nicole Lane
Positioned close to the screen are two blondes, their faces rest close together as they stare in curiosity past the camera toward an image unbeknownst to the viewer. The viewer stares back.
Moxi and her mother — Patti — are sizing up Moxi’s handsome date (although too pale for Patti’s standards) from the dating site, “Meat market.”
In this 4-minute, short-form pilot, Southern for Pussy, real life mother and daughter and longtime collaborators — Zackary Drucker and Penny Sori — traverse a wide swathe of political and intrapersonal subjects, toggling between the conventional (online dating, aging, and relationships) to the unorthodox (vaginal atrophy, smoking dope, and cruising for sex). These mother-daughter vignettes deftly straddle hilarity and honesty; the short was recently in the exhibition, Bring Your Own Body: Transgender Between Archives and Aesthetics, in the New York gallery 41 Cooper Union, and premiered on the Chicago web series platform, Open TV.
Drucker, along with Rhys Ernst, is the co-producer and trans consultant for the Emmy-nominated and Golden Globe-winning comedy-drama, Transparent. In addition, Zackary is the producer for the Amazon documentary series, This is Me, which explores the trans and gender non-conforming community, as well as discussions about real-life stories and recollections.
Drucker works extensively with moving images, themes of sexuality, and humor throughout her body of work. Southern for Pussy does not exclusively present the topic of transness, but instead, revels in the daily life of Moxi and Patti as people.
The Establishment caught up with Zackary to discuss the importance of working with family, the future of queer television, and the power of niche audiences.
Nicole Lane: I first saw your work at the Logan Center at the University of Chicago for She Gone Rogue. Then, I saw Southern for Pussy at an Open TV event. I wanted to ask you some more in-depth questions about your practice. I wanted to begin with the dynamic relationship that you have with your mother, specifically in the work Southern for Pussy. I’m interested in how important it is to work with her and what that process is like.
Zackary Drucker: Definitely. I have a special relationship with my mother, who encouraged my art-making. Both of my parents were actually always really supportive of me expressing myself. I started photographing my mother in high school. She was one of my first subjects. I’ve always been captivated by my mother’s way of going through the world, as many of us are — I don’t think that’s exceptional. I’m pretty much a product of my parents.
My mother is an intelligent, feminist, critical thinker. She introduced me to a lot of gender theory and basic concepts of feminism, gender equality, and was also really open to me and my experimentation at a young age. Through the years that I’ve continued to work with her, I’ve learned that working with your family members is a great way to bond. I started writing the piece when Aymar [Aymar Jean Christian, Founder of Open TV] approached me about the possibility of making a new film.
It was a great opportunity. I started writing the piece and then things got really hectic with my schedule and I actually handed it over to my mom and said, “Can you finish this?” I wrote the first two scenes and then she tied it all up with the end. It was a true collaboration. My mom is a great writer. She’s really funny, she has a great sense of humor, and she’s clearly a talented performer. It was just a really fun project. Aymar was really open — hence the name! — to whatever I was bringing to the table. It was so painless as far as directions go. My friend Michelle Lawler was the DP. It was primarily women on the crew. It felt really holistic. The guy in it is actually my ex-boyfriend, one of my closest friends. He’s also really close to my parents as well after the years he and I spent together.
Nicole: On your website, it says Southern for Pussy is “semi-autobiographical.” Is it because of the characters or the situations?
Zackary: It’s all pretty true! It’s based on a conversation that we might have and a place where we might have it. It takes on its own life. I would say that it’s inspired by our authentic relationship.
Nicole: Transness is never mentioned by name in Southern for Pussy. For the viewers it’s kind of ambiguous as to whether Moxi, your character, is cisgender or transgender. Was this an intentional decision?
Zackary: Oh, it was very intentional. At the same time, I’ve been making work about transness since I transitioned in 2008 and for me, it’s not at the forefront, especially in the relationship with my mother — it was at the forefront seven years ago for us and it’s not anymore. There has to be something that comes after the way that I addressed my transness in previous works, which is just me, as a person. The character is trans, but it’s just not something they are thinking about in that moment or something that they need to talk about. That’s the next step in entertainment in general. If every trans character we see is only speaking to their gender, it’s a one-dimensional rendering. So it just makes sense to include things that make us human, like our relationships to our loved ones, or romantic life, all of those things.
Nicole: I think your father is referenced twice in the pilot but he’s never seen in the shots. Why did you include him but not physically include him?
Zackary: My father is always tinkering, or doing something — or smoking pot.
Nicole: Like most fathers!
Zackary: Yes! Like most fathers. It’s kind of our inside joke. Whenever I come over, I’m like, “Where’s Dad?” and he’s always in the garage or in the back yard. I would love to include him in the future as himself. He’s a hilarious person in his own way. Both of my parents were in the film I made with Rhys Ernst, She Gone Rogue. My father was the one who really had the big moment singing the Shirley Temple song. They each have their moments to shine. It’s nice to work with your family. I’ve always been really influenced by filmmakers who have done that. I often reference Federico Fellini or Cassavetes. A Woman Under the Influence was shot with Gena Rowlands, who was Cassavetes wife. He always worked with Gena Rowlands. She was his muse. It’s an interesting pair and collaboration. She carries all of the movies. She brings her own thing to each character which are uniquely her.
Nicole: Who are some of your muses in your life?
Zackary: The people I have worked with most often are my mom, my chosen sister Van Barnes, and Flawless Sabrina — she’s always been a muse since I met her. They are all in an upcoming experimental piece that I’m working on.
Nicole: I know you work with Transparent and This is Me — how has the television world affected your practice and other projects?
Zackary: Photographing my life is something that happens continuously. And writing. Before I was on Transparent, I was teaching as an adjunct teacher for five or six years. That kind of pulled me out of my art-making in a different way. I jumped on the chance to work on Transparent because I knew that it would elevate my personal projects.
I also knew that I would acquire so many skills from working on a large project like that. It’s been really informative on a much larger scale. At the same time, I think it also has the opposite affect and makes me want to do something DIY. I think that any artistic canon has all kinds of bends and curves in the road. I think Southern for Pussy is the turning point. It’s more narrative, but it maintains the irreverence that’s been in all of my previous work, as well as a strong writing element. It’s an interesting place that I’ve found myself in. I think it’s also an indicator that the entertainment industry is changing. Transparent was really a game changer in a lot of ways. Artists haven’t really been included on projects like this before. Jill Soloway has taken an alternative approach to create something that is out of the box.
Nicole: Do you think this is the future of television — in terms of including trans people and queer rights? Do you think this inclusivity is where it’s going to keep evolving?
Zackary: No, not necessarily, but I hope so. For me, Open TV is an indicator that people are creating new platforms for communities that haven’t had platforms before. The possibilities that have come with streaming create a democratizing of what’s being programmed, things are created for more niche audiences in mind. It’s not the same kind of populous pasteurizing that we used to see where everybody was pandering to the masses and not necessarily to a more specific experience.
I was listening to this panel the other day in D.C. and someone said, “We need all of the white cis guys to just sit down, stop making work for a few years, and let queer people, trans people, and people of color, make their own content. Let everyone have a more interesting landscape.” Streaming has started to do that. Just 7% of directors in Hollywood are women — it’s egregious. It’s this old boys club without streaming services like Open TV, Amazon, Netflix . . . I was in the airport yesterday and they were advertising Crackle, which I had never heard of before.
Nicole: It’s really great to be living in this Internet age where we can make our own platforms. If television won’t produce what we want then we will make our own space and our safe community to invite artists and directors to make their own work. It’s definitely exciting.
Zackary: Yeah, I agree. I concur. There’s probably going to be avenues of distribution that we can’t even imagine. Entertainment is going to change a lot in our lifetime. Our digital sensibilities are evolving so rapidly.
Nicole: Since your background is in photography, what made you decide to work with moving images? Was that the next logical evolution in your art-making?
Zackary: When I went to CalArts, I really expanded the way that I was conceiving work. I think that photography is limiting sometimes. I just like it when a character that you’re visualizing in front of your camera starts talking. It’s this whole other level of complication. For me, it’s always going to be about new challenges. Different projects necessitate different mediums. The project usually tells you what the medium is.
Nicole: How does the LA community contribute to your practice?
Zackary: LA is a great place for emerging artists. I’ve been here for ten years. It definitely influences cultural production. It’s the only city that is entirely based on a creative economy. It’s a friendly city for artists.
Nicole: Southern for Pussy was just exhibited in a gallery in New York. Can you tell me a little about what you have planned for the future and where you want to take your work?
Zackary: Yeah, I’m working on another short experimental film. I haven’t had enough time to think about where Southern for Pussy is going. I think that people are still seeing it and I’m excited to see who likes it and who wants to screen it. I’m totally open.